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How Buddhist know when someone is enlightened?

edited May 2010 in Buddhism Basics
If someone says they are enlightened does the Buddhist community just take their word for it? Seems like there must be a way to confirm this or else I would think there would be many that THINK they are enlightened or want people to believe that they are enlighten when in reality they aren't.

How do buddhists know when someone becomes a buddha or enlighted?

Comments

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited May 2010
    Nobody has ever claimed to me that they are enlightened. As far as I remember, nobody on this forum has ever claimed to be.

    An enlightened person would never bother proclaiming the fact.
    They wouldn't need to.....
    Their actions would, in all probability, speak louder than words.
    FoibleFull
  • Quiet_witnessQuiet_witness Veteran
    edited May 2010
    Enlightenment is only veriafible by the enlightened.
  • Quiet_witnessQuiet_witness Veteran
    edited May 2010
    ...and what Federica said ;)
  • edited May 2010
    The Dalai Lama was asked this, and surprisingly, he admitted he was not Enlightened. But then again, as others noted, an Enlightened one would never claim to be.


    .
  • RichardHRichardH Veteran
    edited May 2010
    There are different definitions of Enlightenment. In Zen Enlightenment "experiences" come with practice, but these are not important, what matters is your overall integration and maturity. Maybe you can say Enlightenment is the opposite of specialness.
  • edited May 2010
    Didn't Buddha say he was enlightened? Doesn't the name Buddha technically mean "awake" which would be a synonym of sorts? If only other enlightened folk can verify the enlightened-ness then who else was enlightened at the time of Buddha in order to tell everyone "Hey listen to this guy, he isn't BSing you!"
  • GlowGlow Veteran
    edited May 2010
    The word translated as "enlightened" simply means "awake." The Buddha is simply "the one who has woken up." Woken up from what? In essence, all of Buddhism is about waking up from the self-inflicted trance -- the defense mechanisms -- by which prevent ourselves from seeing the unsatisfactoriness, impermanence and not-self nature of this existence.
  • edited May 2010
    Thanks for the replies.

    I guess taking Siddhartha Gautama as example, how do we know that he was in fact enlightened?

    Did he say he was? How do we know he really was? His followers just took his word for it?

    Forgive me if I am inaccurate with some of my facts but I think I have heard that a new buddha comes along every few thousand years and the last one was about 1000 years ago which I have no idea what his name was but if this is true then how did we know he was a true Buddha? Did he just tell people that and they believe him or people around him "thought" that he was a Buddha?

    I don't mean to sound like I am debunking Buddhas because I do believe that these particular individuals did reach enlightenment but its a question I get asked quite often when I discuss Bhuddism to friends that are interested in it and don't know anything about it but I never know how to answer this question.
  • Quiet_witnessQuiet_witness Veteran
    edited May 2010
    Irris wrote: »
    Didn't Buddha say he was enlightened? Doesn't the name Buddha technically mean "awake" which would be a synonym of sorts? If only other enlightened folk can verify the enlightened-ness then who else was enlightened at the time of Buddha in order to tell everyone "Hey listen to this guy, he isn't BSing you!"


    Think of what I said as a koan.

    If only the enlightened can verify elightenment and the Buddha was "self-awakened", then only he could verify his enlightenment. He did, however, tell us to question anything that you hear, even what he says, that doesn't agree with your logic and beliefs.
  • edited May 2010
    Lansky wrote: »
    I don't mean to sound like I am debunking Buddhas because I do believe that these particular individuals did reach enlightenment but its a question I get asked quite often when I discuss Bhuddism to friends that are interested in it and don't know anything about it but I never know how to answer this question.
    Same here. Most people don't care, but some ask lots of questions and I'd like to be able to answer them without floundering. So in a way I like to ask myself these "skeptical" questions to prepare.
    It also becomes difficult when people compare it to how persuasive other historical leaders/prophets/teachers/etc were. How well they accomplished the feat of convincing a large group of people to believe them. If people are willing to flock and nod their heads along with someone proclaiming to be a god, why wouldn't they also be just as easily "fooled" into believing in a supreme state of enlightenment that only happens once every millennium?
  • edited May 2010
    No one has to verify that he was Enlightened or even ask him if he was. He didn't convince people by begging them to believe he was Enlightened. His teachings spoke for themselves. Read his discourses and you will immediately know that these are the words of an Enlightened one.

    .
  • ValtielValtiel Veteran
    edited May 2010
    The Dalai Lama was asked this, and surprisingly, he admitted he was not Enlightened. But then again, as others noted, an Enlightened one would never claim to be.
    An enlightened person would never bother proclaiming the fact.
    Straight out of a Monty Python clip... :eek2:
    When the Tathagata — worthy & rightly self-awakened — was still just an unawakened bodhisatta...

    How we know, of course, is through personal verification of the teachings. Do they lead to the quenching of dukkha?
  • GuyCGuyC Veteran
    edited May 2010
    Lansky wrote: »
    I guess taking Siddhartha Gautama as example, how do we know that he was in fact enlightened?

    Did he say he was? How do we know he really was? His followers just took his word for it?

    1)practice
    2)make friends with wise monks, nuns and lay people
    3)practice
    4)listen to Dhamma talks, read Suttas
    5)practice
    6)remember what you have heard
    7)practice
    8)discuss Dhamma, ask questions
    9)practice
    10)contemplate the Dhamma
    11)practice
    12)keep repeating above steps

    These 12 steps are the best way I know of to overcome doubts.
    the last one was about 1000 years ago
    Actually it was more like 2500 years ago
    I don't mean to sound like I am debunking Buddhas because I do believe that these particular individuals did reach enlightenment but its a question I get asked quite often when I discuss Bhuddism to friends that are interested in it and don't know anything about it but I never know how to answer this question.
    Tell your friends to practice what the Buddha taught, tell them to try the Eightfold Path and see if it leads to an increase in qualities such as love, compassion and inner-peace. Once they see the changes in their own mind from practice their faith will increase that its possible to completely free themselves from suffering.

    Maybe you can say to them something like: "Well, there's nothing I can really say that will convince you that the Buddha is enlightened, and you are correct to think that way. You shouldn't believe that the Buddha is enlightened simply because I say he is. But, if you REALLY want to know whether or not he's enlightened, why don't you test out the instructions that he left us and see if they lead to the destination he said they would. It is not like other religions where you have to die to find out if you picked the right religion or not, the results are verifiable in this lifetime to each individual for themselves in their own hearts and minds."

    But, even though they ask, many of them probably won't bother to practice and to verify it for themselves. That's fine though, that's just the way people are sometimes, if they aren't ready to listen they won't listen. Still go ahead and explain though, there may be someone who is asking questions who actually wants to hear the answer and is unafraid of where it might lead. Such people are rare. But it is because such people exist that the Buddha, through his great compassion, decided to teach us.
  • RichardHRichardH Veteran
    edited May 2010
    GuyC wrote: »
    make friends with wise monks, nuns and lay people

    This one is essential, the company you keep. Being with people who's speech and conduct inspires respect and aspiration. People, frankly, to look up to. Not in a worshipful or attached way, but as examples of living Dharma who embody certain virtues . They are out there.
  • edited May 2010
    GuyC wrote: »
    1)practice
    2)make friends with wise monks, nuns and lay people
    3)practice
    4)listen to Dhamma talks, read Suttas
    5)practice
    6)remember what you have heard
    7)practice
    8)discuss Dhamma, ask questions
    9)practice
    10)contemplate the Dhamma
    11)practice
    12)keep repeating above steps

    These 12 steps are the best way I know of to overcome doubts.

    Actually it was more like 2500 years ago

    Tell your friends to practice what the Buddha taught, tell them to try the Eightfold Path and see if it leads to an increase in qualities such as love, compassion and inner-peace. Once they see the changes in their own mind from practice their faith will increase that its possible to completely free themselves from suffering.

    Maybe you can say to them something like: "Well, there's nothing I can really say that will convince you that the Buddha is enlightened, and you are correct to think that way. You shouldn't believe that the Buddha is enlightened simply because I say he is. But, if you REALLY want to know whether or not he's enlightened, why don't you test out the instructions that he left us and see if they lead to the destination he said they would. It is not like other religions where you have to die to find out if you picked the right religion or not, the results are verifiable in this lifetime to each individual for themselves in their own hearts and minds."

    But, even though they ask, many of them probably won't bother to practice and to verify it for themselves. That's fine though, that's just the way people are sometimes, if they aren't ready to listen they won't listen. Still go ahead and explain though, there may be someone who is asking questions who actually wants to hear the answer and is unafraid of where it might lead. Such people are rare. But it is because such people exist that the Buddha, through his great compassion, decided to teach us.

    I love this post, it's basically the truth. You can not disagree with any element of it all because it is just plain reality. Why is it that sometimes the truth is hard to accept???

    I also love how Buddishm is a guideline as opposed to a hardcore doctrin on how to live your life. It enocurages scepticism and questioning as opposed to mere following. The teachings are there for you read and to interpret, it is up to you whether to take them up.
  • RichardHRichardH Veteran
    edited May 2010
    NamNam wrote: »
    I love this post, it's basically the truth. You can not disagree with any element of it all because it is just plain reality. Why is it that sometimes the truth is hard to accept???

    I also love how Buddishm is a guideline as opposed to a hardcore doctrin on how to live your life. It enocurages scepticism and questioning as opposed to mere following. The teachings are there for you read and to interpret, it is up to you whether to take them up.


    "Buddism is a guideline as opposed to a hardcore doctrin(e)"

    "it's basically the truth. You can not disagree with any element of it all because it is just plain reality. Why is it that sometimes the truth is hard to accept???"

    ......So which one is it going to be?
  • edited May 2010
    I'm not too sure what you're asking Richard, could you please further elaborate?
  • RichardHRichardH Veteran
    edited May 2010
    NamNam wrote: »
    I'm not too sure what you're asking Richard, could you please further elaborate?

    never mind. Yes, Guy C's post is very good.
  • edited May 2010
    How do buddhists know when someone becomes a buddha or enlighted?
    Assume someone is enlightened and you as a Buddhist wanted to know. So presumed that enlightenment is represented by this word "Absoluteness".
    Without writing materials and without showing this word "Absoluteness" to someone using any media. Now, take out this word "Absoluteness" from this screen or take out from your mind this word "Absoluteness" to your friend!!!<!-- / message -->
  • edited May 2010
    it's like checking if food is cooked all the way, you stick a thermometer in and if it's not hot enough it's not ready to eat

    HAHA
  • aMattaMatt Veteran
    edited May 2010
    it's like checking if food is cooked all the way, you stick a thermometer in and if it's not hot enough it's not ready to eat

    HAHA

    I think you're just making excuses for all your thermometer poking.
  • edited May 2010
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  • ZendoLord84ZendoLord84 Veteran
    edited May 2010
    i don't care too much about enlightenment....í allready have decided at age 18/19 that I don't want to be a monk to permanantly break the circle of suffering. I want to stay and help others, and right now I need a lot of growing and learning before I can even start to help others.

    I've got enough to do this life to worry about the definition of enlightenment .....it's the journey that counts not the destination....
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited May 2010
    Well there are 32 marks on a buddha including wheels on his hands :D

    Aside from that I don't know. But even if I did you wouldn't know whether or not to believe ME. It would be the same predicament as knowing if someone is enlightened. If I give a rubric for determining it then you also need a rubric to determine if my rubric is correct.

    Infinite regression.

    Maybe try the Kalama sutra?
  • DeshyDeshy Veteran
    edited May 2010
    Why bother if someone else is enlightened or not? As for your personal verification, ask yourself if you still have attachment to self and even the most subtle dukkha caused by it. Then you will know you are not enlightened.
  • edited May 2010
    Lansky wrote: »
    If someone says they are enlightened does the Buddhist community just take their word for it?
    No, if someone tells you that they are enlightened you turn around and run the other way.
    Its the biggest red flag of all red flags.
  • edited May 2010
    No, if someone tells you that they are enlightened you turn around and run the other way.
    Its the biggest red flag of all red flags.
    :lol:
  • thickpaperthickpaper Veteran
    edited May 2010
    No, if someone tells you that they are enlightened you turn around and run the other way.
    Its the biggest red flag of all red flags.

    I think we need to be careful here.

    Who is the more enlightened, the person who understands Dharma and practices it or the person who craves cash and possessions and interacts greedily with their peers?

    Whatever enlightenment is, surely it is the end of a process rather than some binary is/isn't flip switch?

    I am sure most of us here are more enlightened than your average greedy banker...

    namaste
  • edited May 2010
    Thanks for all the input. I am starting to rationalize what I am pretty sure I already knew instictively but never put into words or knew how to put it into words.

    Bottom line is....

    IT DOESN'T MATTER!

    If I say to you that I am enlightened, then you would hopefully be open enough to hear what I had to say from an objective point. If what I had to say did not help you in your path, then you would have no reason to listen to me. Maybe I was enlighted, maybe I wasn't. It doesn't matter because what I had to say to you didn't help.

    On the other hand, if what I had to say did help you, then you would probably listen to more of what I had to say because it is helping you walk the path. Regardless if I am enlightened or not it is beneficial to everyone for you to hear what I have to say.

    In the end it doesn't matter if I was enlightened or not.

    Btw, this was just an example. I am far from being enlightened. :p
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited May 2010
    Yes ultimately you have to have your own level of discernment and trust it. I may make mistakes but I learn from them. Which does not mean that I never listen to anyone else but when the chips are down I do what I believe is right. Be a light unto yourself.
  • jinzangjinzang Veteran
    edited May 2010
    The word enlightened is used in different senses by different people. But one definition is that they have reached the path of seeing, which makes them an arya. You know if someone has reached this level if they are free of the afflictive emotions. You can only tell this if you know them well, for a long time.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited May 2010
    From the diamond sutra:

    "What do you think, Subhuti? Is it possible to grasp the Tathagata (note: the buddha) by means of bodily signs?"

    "No, World-Honored One. When the Tathagata speaks of bodily signs, there are no signs being talked about."

    The Buddha said to Subhuti, "In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If you can see the signless nature of signs, then you can see the Tathagata."


    Another place:

    What do you think Subhuti, has the Tathagata arrived at the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind? Does the Tathagata give any teaching?"

    The venerable Subhuti replied, "As far as I have understood the Lord Buddha's teachings, there is no independently existing object of mind called the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind, nor is there any independently existing teaching that the Tathagata gives. Why? The teachings that the Tathagata has realized and spoken of cannot be conceived of as separate, independent existences and therefore cannot be described. The Tathagata's teaching is not self existent nor is it non-self existent. Why? Because the noble teachers are only distinguished from others in terms of the unconditioned."
  • TheswingisyellowTheswingisyellow Trying to be open to existence Samsara Veteran
    edited May 2010
    It was night. Cold outside. I was standing there discussing both mundane and supermundane and realized I was in the light of the inn, enlightened you could say, because I was standing outside of the inn and a light was on....outside by the porch.
    Yours in the Dharma,
    Todd
  • lightwithinlightwithin Veteran
    edited May 2010
    I was under the impression that people would just take a single LOOK at the Buddha, and realize there was something very different about him, which prompted them to ask "are you a god/angel?", or other questions regarding his knowledge and state of being.

    I don't know the suttas/sutras at all like the people around here do, but I've read about this somewhere before. Is this totally off the mark?
  • edited May 2010
    You can tell the enlightened ones by the light bulbs that appear above their heads.
  • edited May 2010
    Takeahnase wrote: »
    You can tell the enlightened ones by the light bulbs that appear above their heads.
    :D
  • edited May 2010
    Enlightenment is not anything special. First of all, the world enlightenment was not even discussed at the time of buddha. Buddha means "awake". He woke up to how things really are. He woke up to his own not-self nature, the impermanence of all things, and the emptiness everything. Enlightenment is a word. A big mistake. When we say we want to attain enlightenment we are already lost. That is because enlightenment is not something you "get". It is something you already are. You only wake up to it by letting go of everything your mind has attached to. So instead of getting something, when you become enlightened you have done the actual opposite. What many call enlightenment today is what the buddha called Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi: Unexcelled, unsurpassed, perfect wisdom. He basically woke up and realized, "Hey, this world is already complete. We don't need to make anything out of it. We don't need to create these rituals or gods to make life any better. We don't need sex, money, or drugs to make life any better. It's already perfect as it is."

    So when you look at the mail carrier, the lady at the cash register in the grocery store, or yourself in the mirror. Realize that you are looking at buddha.

    Wake up!
  • edited May 2010
    Wow, I step out for a few months, and look what happens.

    The answer to the question, "How does a Buddhist know when someone is enlightened?" is, "She doesn't."

    Oh, and hi everyone. :)

    ~ AD
  • edited May 2010
    Some have said there are no enlightened beings, only enlightened activity.
    A "being" is just a collection of non-static processes.
  • edited May 2010
    I've always liked the words of Suzuki Roshi........"Strictly speaking, there are no enlightened people, there is only enlightened activity."

    As far as relating enlightenment to myself, I've always favoured the "keep the bugs away approach", taken from the words of Ajahn Chan.....

    Do not worry about enlightenment. When growing a tree, you plant it, water it, fertilize it, keep the bugs away; and if these things are done properly, the tree will naturally grow. How quickly it grows, however, is something you cannot control.

    And to complete a little trilogy of quotes (as I have very little wisdom of my own...:) ) there is the old joke....

    Of the guy in the lotus position saying......"I read so much about it beforehand that now I'm actually enlightened its a little bit of a disappointment."
  • patbbpatbb Veteran
    edited May 2010
    the proper answer for the original question :)
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  • RyunosukeRyunosuke New Mexico New

    Enlightenment is not first of all a philosophical concept, nor a psychological insight, but a physical event, an energetic, transactional exchange between an individual and the Cosmos.

    Enlightenment is for the bodhisattwa an empowerment. 

    To put it out there that you are enlightened may well be unexpedient and to no positive effect.

    The sceptical and materialistic will only scoff; or if some do believe you, it may bring unwelcome adulation from the naive and interference from the powers-that-be.

    Enlightenment bears its own seal of unquestionable authority for its recipient, is unshakeable in the face of doubters, and will receive its own evergrowing witness from out of all the ten thousand things.

    Before I sought enlightenment, the mountains were mountains and the rivers were rivers.
    While I sought enlightenment, the mountains were not mountains and the rivers were not rivers.
    After I attained enlightenment, the mountains were mountains and the rivers were rivers.

    Cultivate your garden.

    **ありがとうございます
    **

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Ryunosuke this thread is 8 years old, and frankly, quite 'dead. Apart from Jeffrey and me ( a Moderator) none of the above members contribute any more and have not been seen on forum for a number of years. So pardon me if I close the thread, but if you feel moved to do so, feel free to begin a new one on the subject.

This discussion has been closed.